I grew up super embarrassed of my parents. I’m sure that’s not abnormal for any adolescent, as we avoid anything that could label us as “uncool”.
One would think it was the huge, white, reflector-tape striped van with the bumper stickers, “I Heart my Goat” and “My Child is an Honor Student at Castle Rock Middle School” that transported me to school. One might assume it was the single-wide trailer home with a broken-down carport.
But my shame came from much deeper than that.
Growing up, I had a difficult time with my mom. Her background in a foreign culture, a different belief-system, and harsh way of communicating made me fearful and frequently on edge. At a young age, I was unable to understand her anger and frustrations that tied to her past, so I allowed the projection to be about me.
I silently cursed her, with resolve that I would someday distance myself and move away. And I did.
As years crept on, circumstances meant I became more of a parent than I was a daughter, making decisions and taking charge.
I had an awareness of how my parents decisions affected me– On money, on health, on purchases. And I decided that I knew best and that they should do as I said and follow my lead.
As you can imagine, this created quite a bit of dissonance.
I would frequently lose my temper with her, frustrated she couldn’t handle her own emotions or my perception that she lived in constant victim mode.
“Mom, why are you always so negative?!” I would bark. Authoritatively, I would tell her how to be, how to live, and how to fix things. When she didn’t comply, I would kick back in frustration and another argument would ensue.
Strange how that got me nowhere…
Fast forward to a few years back, situations worsened. Plagued by poor health and the constantly-short-falling finances, It was as though my parents would never catch a break.
I would find myself swallowing all the “I told you so’s” and constantly aggravated dealing with the setbacks that came as a result.
But as another argument swirled with my mom, something different happened.
Instead of an angry woman who wanted to be difficult, I saw a mother with years of struggle and heartache woven into her face. I saw how trials and misunderstandings of the past had become mis-directed anger, the kind we all carry in one form or another. I saw this small, beautiful woman, who tried so hard to do what she thought was best, whether or not I agreed.
Unfortunate bouts of sickness made me aware of the fragility of my once invincible caretaker.
Then something shifted in me.
I realized I wasn’t here to “fix” my parents. It wasn’t my place to tell them what to do or how they should live. These were all my opinions, and while I had good intentions for them, I was creating a damaging relationship of conflict. And where this conflict existed, there was no space for love.
So I decided what my parents needed most was for me to love them.
Moving from a place of judgment to a heart of compassion, I chose to make a change. I began to understand my parents not bathed in their faults, but instead in reflections of their pain and difficulty.
I embraced their imperfections as I had worked to with my own, overlooked my frequent frustrations as that was of my opinion, and forgave the decisions that impacted me negatively as those decisions were made with their best intentions.
I focused, instead, on my gratitude. This family unit gave me a second chance at life. They offered me a home, nourishment, and unconditional love for a child that wasn’t born to them.
Years of generosity and sacrifice flashed before me. Sometimes it was my dad pawning his rifle to send me to a business conference, and other times it was mom handing me strawberry milk and a sandwich through a chain-link fence at the county fair so I wouldn’t go hungry.
Two magnificent, giving people who embraced a daughter with an unknown circumstance that left her for adoption, and made her their own. I was their chosen family.
And then this unexpected thing happened. My mom began to listen. She would turn to me for help to get through, instead of a place to yell and vent her disdain. She began to take charge of her life and her emotions. She started to practice daily gratitude for her blessings instead of focus on her tragedies.
When we spoke, she would sometimes breathe the words, “You’re right”, “I’ll try”, and “I understand what you are saying”.
We were talking to each other and listening, rather than speaking more loudly to be heard.
The more patience and respect I gave, the more she gifted the same back.
We have the right to make decisions for ourselves, and we owe others the same respect. The difference is that somehow being designated as family can make us feel entitled to push our opinions and preference for decision. Generally, not with bad intention, and in many cases we’re trying to protect those we care about.
But what I learned is that those decisions aren’t mine to make.
Family or not, I learned that love was respecting the differences in another. Acceptance means surrendering to instances of “agreeing to disagree”.
I could have spent the remainder of the precious years I have left with my parents in a “cone of silence” or fighting match. Now, I’m incredibly grateful for these realizations and the renewed love I get to share with two people who have chosen me as part of their joy.
It is my hope that my story can help you with your perspective on a difficult family relationship, to see past, to stop trying to fix them, and to love anyway.
And as this piece is titled, a quote by Tracey Jackson profoundly hit me while writing this piece:
“It’s better to love than be right.”